The first time I saw the Yeah Yeah Yeahs perform in 2004 during their tour for Fever To Tell, I sought out their tour bus, grabbed my electric red lipstick, and scrawled “I ‘heart’ you!” above the grill. The sugar-high giddy energy and inspiring fashion of Karen O during the show probably got me in a wacky tizzy to do such a thing.
About two years later, during their Show Your Bones tour, I did not tag the bus with lipstick, but I did get a great view of the impressive Dia de los Muertos-inspired costume the band’s lead singer donned, pictured above. Made by her BFF, designer Christian Joy, the suit’s florescent tendrils and black light sensitive bones glowed as Karen bounced and giggled on stage. During a decade when outrageous musicians are rare, Karen O’s charisma and style are here to crash the uninspiring khaki-pants party.
Contrary to Karen’s current fashion escapades, which usually involve handmade feats of bright and shiny materials, Karen’s style during the band’s first EP and album was more reserved. Inspired by the super cool Karen, I wore a lot of punked-out mini skirts, distressed tees, and brightly colored textured tights during those days. The red boat neck dress with black zipper appliques, shown above, was a particular favorite of mine and moved me to cut the crew necks off my shirts and safety pin on scraps of fabric.
Of course, I didn’t have a buddy who also happened to be an awesome and learned designer. Christiane Hultquist, a.k.a. Christian Joy started out as a DIY designer in Brooklyn. While she’s succeeded in having a NYC Fashion Week solo show in 2002 and fashion-as-art shows from LA to Hong Kong, she still keeps an unassuming Etsy shop. Her bold, punk and tribal inspired designs seem to fit Karen’s persona like a studded leather glove.
From about 2006 to today, Karen’s style grew more playful and ostentatious. The outfit in the photo below (Hultquist’s headdress and cape made from bright pastel, hand-shaped cutouts) is one example of these heights. On that look worn by Karen during 2009’s Glastonbury festival, music editor of the Guardian wrote, “Karen O is wearing green leggings and a rather new rave “capey thing” (Vogue if you’re out there, you can have me for 20p a word). Nick and Brian are wearing … does anyone actually care what Nick and Brian are wearing?”
To be fair, the other two “Yeahs” of the band always look sharp and never fade behind their eye-catching frontwoman. Zinner’s and Chase’s simple styles only support her by contrast. At times resembling post-punk versions of 1965 Bob Dylan, the styles of guitarist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase anchor Karen’s wildness to the point that you’re unexpectedly charmed.
Today, I don’t don lamÃ© bodysuits and tinsel headbands, but I’m still a faithful fan of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Christian Joy, and especially Karen O. I assume that popular style idols like David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, and Lady Gaga will be referenced in fifty years, and I would bet on Karen O as the overlooked surprise in that cavalcade.
What do you think about Karen O’s style? What other musicians, women especially, do you think will leave a style impression on you? Also, do you think it’s relevant today for entertainers to have a shocking, signature look?
As you ponder these questions, check out the video below!